American Refugee Committee’s Daniel Wordsworth

A Plymouth resident, the president and CEO of American Refugee Committee explains how his organization makes a difference in the lives of millions around the world.
Daniel Wordsworth, CEO of American Refugee Committee

When a humanitarian crisis arises somewhere in the world, like the life-choking draught in Somalia or the devastating earthquake in Haiti, Plymouth resident Daniel Wordsworth sees it as a call to action. As president and CEO of the American Refugee Committee (ARC), Wordsworth has the expertise, organization and wherewithal to bring lifesaving care to those in the world who have lost almost everything. Although headquartered in Minneapolis, ARC is an international nonprofit, nonsectarian organization that has provided humanitarian assistance to millions of refugees for more than 30 years.

Wordsworth, an Australian who has devoted most of his adult life to helping those in need, views his work as natural and as necessary as breathing. “You only have one life, and you don’t want to get to the end of yours and feel like the world was not a better place,” Wordsworth says.

While many of us feel disempowered by the immensity of wide-scale crises like those in Somalia or Haiti, Wordsworth says that to him and his organization, the solution is straightforward: “like a car-engine problem to a mechanic.”  

To illustrate, Wordsworth describes a mother who, after her village has been attacked, pulls her toddler to her hip, grabs her 5-year-old by the hand and travels for three weeks in the jungle with only the belongings that she can carry. When she arrives at one of ARC’s camps, “she can drop the burdens of her life and allow us to care for her and her children,” he says.  

The problem can seem large and insurmountable when multiplied by millions, but Wordsworth says it is surprisingly easy to have an immediate and positive impact on someone’s life. ARC is well-equipped to provide that mother, and the many like her, with “a place to live, healthcare, clean water so she doesn’t have to fear her child will get sick, and people who are smiling at them and making them feel welcome,” Wordsworth says. “And we hope to help them [someday] return to the homes that they left.” 

Wordsworth acknowledges that the work is not without risks, and while it is “inherently dangerous, we have an extensive and well-thought-out means of managing those risks.” ARC is effective, says Wordsworth, because it integrates with the local community and keeps its programs focused on the humanitarian crisis without engaging in any existing political conflict. 

Daniel Wordsworth

Because of that know-how, ARC is able to leverage every dollar that the public donates at the onset of a disaster into 10 times as much money. When a crisis first arises and there is an initial influx of donations, as was the case when the earthquake destroyed much of Haiti, ARC immediately gets “on the ground” and uses that money to provide critical life-saving services, such as water, shelter and medical care. “We then take that momentum and get grants for millions more from places like the U.S. government, the United Nations and the World Bank,” says Wordsworth, who explains that ARC can then say, “See what we have already done? Will you give us more money so that we can keep this thing going?” 

Wordsworth understands that any crisis will eventually fall off the average person’s radar screen, but it never disappears from his while there is a pressing need to be addressed. “I think when people donate money, they are trusting that people like us will still be thinking about it one and a half years later and that we will still be deploying resources.”

ARC is located here through a quirk of fate—its first executive director was a Minnesotan—but Wordsworth thinks that it is a good fit. “ARC reflects the best values of Minnesota and the Midwest,” he says. “We are pragmatic and committed to actually getting the job done without a lot of hoopla.”


If you would like to donate to or volunteer for the American Refugee Committee, you can find out how to do so by going to its website.